The Apgar assessment is conducted one minute and five minutes after birth. This is a very quick way to assess the newborn's overall condition. Five measures are assessed: Heart rate, respiration, muscle tone (assessed by touching the baby's palm), reflex response (the Babinski reflex is tested), and color. A score of 0 to 2 is given on each feature examined. An Apgar of 5 or less is cause for concern. The second Apgar should indicate improvement with a higher score.
Figure 2.17 APGAR Test Scores. Source.
Another way to assess the condition of the newborn is the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS). The baby's motor development, muscle tone, and stress response are assessed. This tool has been used around the world to further assess the newborn, especially those with low Apgar scores, and to make comparisons of infants in different cultures (Brazelton & Nugent, 1995).
Figure 2.18: Newborn in the neonatal unit. Source.
Problems of the Newborn
Anoxia: Anoxia is a temporary lack of oxygen to the brain. Difficulty during delivery may lead to anoxia which can result in brain damage or in severe cases, death. Babies who suffer both low birth weight and anoxia are more likely to suffer learning disabilities later in life as well.
Low Birth weight: We have been discussing a number of teratogens associated with low birth weight such as alcohol, tobacco, etc. A child is considered low birth weight if he or she weighs less than 5 pounds 8 ounces (2500 grams). About 8.2 percent of babies born in the United States are of low birth weight (Center for Disease Control, 2015a). A low birth weight baby has difficulty maintaining adequate body temperature because it lacks the fat that would otherwise provide insulation. Such a baby is also at more risk for infection, and 67 percent of these babies are also preterm which can make them more at risk for respiratory infection. Very low birth weight babies (2 pounds or less) have an increased risk of developing cerebral palsy. Many causes of low birth weight are preventable with proper prenatal care.
Preterm: A newborn might also have a low birth weight if it is born at less than 37 weeks gestation, which qualifies it as a preterm baby (CDC, 2015c). Early birth can be triggered by anything that disrupts the mother's system. For instance, vaginal infections can lead to premature birth because such infection causes the mother to release anti-inflammatory chemicals which, in turn, can trigger contractions. Smoking and the use of other teratogens can lead to preterm birth. A significant consequence of preterm birth includes respiratory distress syndrome, which is characterized by weak and irregular breathing (United States National Library of Medicine, 2015).
Small-for-Date Infants: Infants that have birth weights that are below expectation based on their gestational age are referred to as small-for-date. These infants may be full term or preterm, but still weigh less than 90 % of all babies of the same gestational age. This is a very serious situation for newborns as their growth was adversely affected. Regev et al. (2003) found that small-for-date infants died at rates more than four times higher than other infants.